Molly Baz is always down to talk about food. As a senior food editor in Bon Appétit’s test kitchen, she’s more often than not whipping up new recipes. Known for go-tos like Pasta al Limone, Adult Mac and Cheese, Basque Burnt Cheesecake, and Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Walnut Dressing, she also hosts a series on the brand’s YouTube channel where she’s forced to attempt uncommon techniques, like wilderness survival cooking and cooking ostrich eggs.
Lately, she’s been working double duty on a cookbook set to be published by Clarkson Potter in early 2021.
I caught up with Baz to talk about her favorite Brooklyn haunts, her snacking schedule in the test kitchen, and what she’s going to cook next.
What have you been eating lately?
At this current moment in my life, I’m working on a cookbook, so I’m spending four to five nights a week in my own kitchen testing recipes and eating my own food. The recipes are simple, sort of entry-level, home-cookable dishes that don’t require any wild ingredients or special equipment. So, a lot of my meals have been my own cooking lately, which isn’t exactly my preference — I love to eat out. A few days ago I actually wrapped up the 100th recipe for my book, so I’m excited to be going out to eat again.
What’s a day in the life of a test kitchen chef look like? Can you walk me through your day of eating?
I generally don’t eat breakfast before I get to work. That’s mostly because I really like to build an appetite for the day. I’ve found that once things kick into gear in the test kitchen — from that moment until I go to sleep — I’m never hungry because I’m just eating and tasting all day.
At 11 a.m., things heat up in the kitchen and my meal plan turns into this constant stream of snacking for six hours or so. I’m usually working on one, two, three recipes throughout the day and putting them up for official tasting with other BA editors. I’m also tasting the food of all of my colleagues. On a busy day, there could be five or six different tastings when we all come together around the table to evaluate recipes that are either going in print, online, or will be featured in a video. Basically I’m just constantly eating the food created by Andy Baraghani, Chris Morocco, Sohla El-Waylly, Carla Lalli Music, and myself.
Then I like to do what I call a fast between 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Some people make fun of me and tell me that’s not a fast, but … with my job, that’s a while to go without eating anything.
Then I’ll get home and start cooking dinner. In this six-month period of working on the cookbook, my meals have been very bizarre. One night I might need to test a rice dish and also a pasta dish. Dinner can end up being three starches with no protein, no vegetable. I’ve had dinner parties on weekends when I’m doing four or five recipes at once and I’ll invite friends over, but I’ve got to brace them and say, “Hey, everything will be really tasty, but it might not come together well.” So it’s been weird!
What do you like to eat when you go out?
I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, essentially right above Bernie’s, which is this modern-retro American eatery that’s sort of modeled after Cheers. I go there a lot and I eat their vinegar chicken a lot. It’s incredible.
I also love Le Crocodile, the new restaurant at the Wythe Hotel. It’s run by two chefs, Aidan O’Neal and Jake Leiber, who run Chez Ma Tante. Until Le Crocodile opened, Chez Ma Tante was my absolute favorite neighborhood resto. Aidan is one of the most talented and tuned-in chefs I know.
Recently we got very hooked on their roasted chicken with herb jus and fries. He told me that the dish was inspired by his love of roast chicken with salsa verde at Barbuto and french fries at Balthazar — needless to say, it’s insanely delicious.
I’m excited to start going out in general again, to finally go to spots that are on my list and even old standbys. Because I love going out — when it’s good, it’s great, you know? You can get that real service experience and not have to think about cleaning up 400 dishes afterwards.
Since so much of your work lately hasn’t given you a lot of food freedom, what have you been missing?
Vegetables, honestly. I have a lot of vegetables in the book. Because of my job I like to eat fairly simple at home. After a long day at work, I’ve consumed dishes from every group imaginable throughout the day. I like to end the day with a substantial meal, but a simple one. So I’m eating lots of salad, lots of veg. At home, we tend to eat a lot of lettuce wraps. They’re super simple. Just take greens, a protein, and zhush it up whatever I’ve got in the fridge, whether I end up making larb or making niçoise salad wraps with nice canned tuna.
Also, I’m looking forward to being able to drink wine at night and not having to think, “Well, if I have one more glass I am definitely not finishing these recipe edits tonight.”
I’m really looking forward to taking back my Sunday afternoons. I look forward to putting a roast chicken in the oven and making a simple salad and not having to think, “What’s the learning moment here … what ingredient have I not featured in a recipe yet?”
Essentially, I’m looking forward to getting back to eating what my body is craving.
Which it sounds like is usually a good roast chicken. Why is that a special dish for you?
I feel like a roast chicken is at the heart of family comfort food — not just my family growing up but the family I’m building now, too. I just really love the ritual of roast chicken. I love how you can do very little to something, i.e., adding salt, pepper, and some spices, throw it in the oven, and be able to sit down an hour later to something that’s been so drastically transformed. It’s so much better than the sum of its parts and it’s so satisfying. No dish really represents the beauty of cooking and how it transforms ingredients more than the classic roast chicken, to me. You’ve got to really appreciate it when it’s done well.
I feel like a lot of new or inexperienced home cooks, which sounds like is the audience for your new book, are intimidated by tackling a whole roast chicken.
Yes! And it kind of drives me crazy because it’s the complete opposite. It’s the easiest way to ensure that you’re going to have something very delicious for dinner without much work. There’s some room for error, but not more than other dishes. Nothing about roasting chicken is more difficult than working with chicken breasts or making crispy chicken thighs — you can fuck those up just as easily.
In a recent episode of your solo series on Bon Appétit, you learned how to make fresh food for your dog, Tuna, and shared a dinner of hot dogs and doggie spaghetti and meatballs with her and your husband — have there been any more full family dinners?
Oh, Tuna. As much as I would like to pretend I make spaghetti and meatballs for my dog on a daily basis, that’s just not very realistic. We try not to feed her too much human food because she’s such a small little thing. It’s so easy to accidentally like, double her calorie intake. To be honest, we didn’t really train her well either. We were like, “Oh, she’s so small we don’t really have to train her,” so we’re scared of introducing human food and having her beg at the table. She’s pretty low-key at dinner time. She’s usually always at our feet or right next to us on a bench but, no, I’m not always feeding her Lady and the Tramp style.
Here’s a hypothetical for you: You’re at that perfect level of hungry and you can have a colleague at BA make you any one of their dishes perfectly — who is cooking what for you?
Ooh, I’d have to go with Chris Morocco’s Spicy-Sweet Sambal Pork Noodles. This dish that Chris gave birth to about a year ago is his brainchild, a mash-up of classic Bolognese and a drunken Thai spicy noodle dish. It takes everything awesome from Bolognese and everything awesome from mouthwatering spicy-sweet takeout noodles and blends them so seamlessly. It’s perfect.